By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
DESPITE HIS ABILITY TO EMPATHIZE, TED UREñA IS a policeman whose views of his brethren are shaped by his own tough experience on the street. So when it comes to conduct and misconduct, he does not bend. He sounds like a policeman whose script was written by Jack Webb, and certainly not by James Ellroy. Policing involves violence. There is no therapeutic middle ground from which to mediate between a civil society and an uncivil society. Sometimes someone gets hurt. Ureña will not second-guess the appropriateness of a police beating or shooting. He sees it this way: "A person should put himself in the officer's position, and not ask, 'Why did the officer shoot?' Instead, turn the question around, and ask, 'How many times would you be willing to be shot at?' 'How many times would you allow yourself to be stabbed before you believe your life is more valuable than the person who's trying to take it?' I'll tell you right now, for me, zero. Absolutely. I consider myself to be a good man, a person who has something valuable to add to this world. And so I value my place on this Earth. And to defend that, to continue with that mission I have, even if it means taking someone's life if that person is dead set on taking mine, I truly believe that I will not hesitate. And I think that's important. I think you have to be clear as to what your limits are going to be and also clear on what you are capable of doing. Because a parolee's life -- yeah, in the eyes of God, we're equal, he created us equal, but the choices that we've made right here on Earth have made us different people."
The public, Ureña says, almost never sees the natural progression as force escalates to the dramatic incidents sometimes caught on video. Rodney King was on PCP, he resisted the officers, he wasn't stopped by Tasers, Ureña reasons. There was nothing left to do but employ overwhelming force. Donovan Jackson, slammed onto the trunk of an Inglewood police car, allegedly grabbed an officer's scrotum. "This is strictly my opinion, but I believe the officer's statement that he grabbed at his groin and began to squeeze it. I'd ask any man out here, how much of that are they going to take before they are going to do something to make him release his grip?" A year after Margaret Mitchell, the mentally disturbed 102-pound woman, was fatally shot for threatening an LAPD officer with a screwdriver, Ureña argued with a sergeant who believed the shooting was excessive. "I said, 'Sir, you cannot say, you truly can't say, and I don't think you should say, that the officer may have been incorrect, because, sir, neither you nor I were there. You're a big guy. Maybe you would take the chance of trying to wrestle the screwdriver out of her hands, but again, sir, I'm not going to be stabbed. I value my life too much to allow myself to take an injury in order to give another person a chance. How much do you value your life?' And I think that's what's necessary for the public to ä understand. Now, we are humans. More importantly, probably as individuals, we'll take chances for the greater good. But how much are you willing to sacrifice so that one person can live? You are putting yourself in a position where your family may lose you. It's a risky business.
"Let's not kid ourselves," Ureña says. "All violence is ugly, unless it's a choreographed fight scene. It's not as if we can fight somebody, and then at the end of the day, everybody goes their own way. If we have to use force, it's only because they've done something to instigate that force. Even before that, they committed a crime that they now need to be arrested for. I wish the public would remember that we can't retreat. They don't pay us to retreat from fights or from incidents. How would that be? An officer can't say, you know what, you're too big for me, I'm not going to deal with you. He has to get the resources there, and then use whatever is available to him -- even if it appears overwhelming. But we can't lose fights. Now, officers do lose fights, we're only human. But as a department, we can't lose. It has to be a win situation."
And yet, throughout a 13-hour shift, on one long night of policing Wilshire Division streets, Ureña never raises his voice. At one loud-noise call, on South Cloverdale, just after 1 a.m., he does lower his natural tenor to do an imitation of Martin Milner, of Adam-12, himself impersonating an LAPD basso profundo. "POLICE," Ureña sings out to a locked apartment door, reaching for a register two steps below his lowest pitch, turning the scene into a comic-opera send-up of a fearless copper on the beat. Ureña can barely keep a straight face.